In 1965, a Japanese clock company invented a pedometer named the Manpo-kei, which means “10,000 steps meter”.
This was the beginning of the idea that 10,000 steps was the minimum number of steps people needed to take each day for the sake of their health.
Over the years many people have whinged that it’s too difficult to achieve every day – and scientists have complained about the lack of evidence that 10,000 is the magic number.
In recent years, researchers have been investigating how many steps we actually need to gain significant health and longevity benefits.
Much of that research has been done with older people, with the general conclusion being the more walking you can do, the better.
A new study looking at middle-aged people
Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that walking at least 7000 steps a day reduced middle-aged people’s risk of premature death from all causes by 50 per cent to 70 per cent, compared to that of other middle-aged people who took fewer daily steps.
To get that 70 per cent reduced risk meant walking more than 9000 steps – and that’s where the benefits soon after plateaued.
Walking more than 10,000 steps per day – or walking faster – did not further reduce the risk, notes lead author Dr Amanda Paluch, an assistant professor of kinesiology in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences.
How the step-count sweet spot was determined
The researchers investigated data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, which began in 1985 and is still continuing.
About 2100 participants between age 38 and 50 wore an accelerometer in 2005 or 2006. They were followed for nearly 11 years after that, and the resulting data was analysed in 2020 and 2021.
The participants were separated into three comparison groups: Low-step volume (under 7000 steps per day), moderate (7000 to 9999) and high (more than 10,000).
“You see this gradual risk reduction in mortality as you get more steps,” Dr Paluch said.
“There were substantial health benefits between 7000 and 10,000 steps but we didn’t see an additional benefit from going beyond 10,000 steps.”
The researchers found that for people who walked 4000 steps, “getting to 5000 is meaningful” in terms of reducing the risk of premature death.
“And from 5000 to 6000 steps, there is an incremental risk reduction in all-cause mortality up to about 10,000 steps,” she said.
Because the study involved people in middle age, “the findings can begin to suggest ways to keep people healthier longer and to avoid premature death”, as was experienced by some participants.
“Preventing those deaths before average life expectancy, that is a big deal,” Dr Paluch said.
About a third of all deaths are premature in Australia, meaning they die before the age of 75.
Poor cardiovascular health is largely to blame. So keep yourself fit, one step at a time, and live longer.